Wolfgang Ketterle was born in 1957 as the second of three children and grew up in Eppelheim. After graduating from the Bunsen -Gymnasium in Heidelberg he started in 1976 with the study of physics at the Ruprecht -Karls- University of Heidelberg. After the bachelor's degree, he moved to the Technical University of Munich. He suggested the direction of theoretical physics and graduated in 1982 on the spin relaxation of ungeordneteten materials, then he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching and the Ludwig- Maximilians- University in Munich Herbert Walther and was established in 1986 with work spectroscopy doctorate at Heliumhydrid and the triatomic hydrogen molecule.
After his time in Garching Ketterle moved back to Heidelberg to conduct investigations on internal combustion engines at the Department of Jürgen Wolfrum. In 1990 he moved again his field and moved to America to work in the group of David E. Pritchard on problems of laser cooling. In 1993, he joined the Physics Department of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT ) and today the John D. MacArthur Chair in Physics held.
Wolfgang Ketterle was married from 1986 to 2002 with Gabriele Sauer, with whom he has two sons and a daughter.
Ketterle succeeded during his promotion to prove the existence of Heliumhydrid ( HeH ) and to win for the first time spectra of this molecule. During his postdoctoral training in Garching succeeded also to fully explain the HeH spectra - Herbert Walther summed up his performance later in the sentence: "He has created a territory and killed it at the same time ."
He belonged in 1995 to the first, where the production of a Bose -Einstein condensate succeeded in 1997, he demonstrated for the first time an atom laser. It was founded in 2001, together with Eric A. Cornell and Carl E. Wieman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics "for the achievement of Bose -Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the condensates ".